Take the 2-minute tour ×
Christianity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

A seldom-quoted stanza of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" says "In the beauty of the lillies Christ was born across the sea, with a beauty in his bosom that transfigures you and me. As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free, while God is marching on." My question is, what does it mean when it says that Jesus was born "in the beauty of the lillies"? I thought the story was that he was born in a manger, not among lillies. Is there any reference to lillies in the Biblical description of Jesus' birth?

Or does the "in" mean "with", i.e. is it saying that Jesus was as beautiful as a lily when he was born? That could be a reference to the line in the Bible about how King Solomon was not arrayed so finely as the lillies of the field.

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Thank You in Advance.

share|improve this question
1  
Religion without metaphor is a rainbow without color. –  George Cummins May 7 at 3:09
    
The cantor who used to sing at my parish always sang that verse with lots of gusto, I miss that so much! I always just assumed it meant that palestine was known for its lilies when the song was written, thanks for asking this question! –  Peter Turner Jun 24 at 12:32

4 Answers 4

The answer I think may be found by comparing it to that other song from the same general time period that says "He's the Lily of the Valley, the Bright and Morning Star; He's the fairest of ten thousand to my soul." (i.e. The Lilly of the Valley).

Its reference to Song of Solomon 2:1, "I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys."

share|improve this answer
    
I think you're correct. The Lilly of the Valley is on of numerous an attempts to make the Song of Songs less controversial by reading parts of it as though it is describing the Messiah. –  mojo May 7 at 4:47

According to this site, the first draft of the song actually had the words

In the whiteness of the lilies he was born across the sea

And then the final version of the song, which was first published in 1862 had the words

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea

That same site references a book by Edmund Wilson entitled Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1966). On page 96 of that book, the author suggests that the lyrics may be referring to Easter lilies (which are associated with the death and resurrection of Jesus).

Absent any reason given by Julia Ward for choosing those words, we can merely speculate as to why she chose them. Based on the context, though, she was clearly wanting to convey the hope portrayed in Jesus' birth and the beauty of what He accomplished in stark contrast to the darkness underlying the rest of the song.

share|improve this answer

I thought the word in the Battle Hymn of the Republic is not "born" but "borne", meaning "carried". The idea is that, in His death and resurrection, Christ crossed the sea that separates this life from the next. So the reference would be to Easter, not to Christmas, and lilies are a traditional decoration for Easter celebrations.

share|improve this answer
2  
At least Wikipedia has it as "born", not "borne": en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Battle_Hymn_of_the_Republic#Lyrics –  Keshav Srinivasan May 7 at 17:12
    
And AFAIK the sea is not used in any Christian metaphor to symbolize passing between this life and the next. –  Paul Draper 2 days ago

From my research I have concluded, that:

1. The Lilly is touted as the purest white of the flowers and is the standard of
whiteness used in judging other flowers.

2. The word transfigured according to Merriam Webster 'TRANSFIG'URE, v.t. 
[L. trans and figura.] To transform; to change the outward form or appearance.

It seems to me, that what the writer meant to convey is that just as the Lilly is the standard for judging the purity of other flowers, so Christ is the standard by which man's purity is judged. And that because of his purity we are changed into something of comparable beauty as is the Lilly.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.